Monday, 16 December 2013

Mindful Tea - Part 3 - Chinese Green Tea Quality

"Green tea reminds us that food is a reflection of the essential alliance between earth and man. Artisan, handmade green tea is a labor of love on the part of the tea maker, which results in a blissful tea-drinking experience." - The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (2010), p58.

A view from the train in South-East China during the authors travels in 2006.

It seems there is no other country that rivals the deep knowledge of tea production that can be found in China. In The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (2010), the author states the following, p9-10:
"Since all tea starts as freshly plucked leaf, it is theoretically possible to turn any fresh tea leaf into any of the six classes of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and Puerh. But tea manufacture is a precise, controlled, and predictable process, and in most tea-producing countries, tea producers focus on only one or two classes of tea. Japan, for instance, produces primarily green teas, but they are very distinctive and taste like no other green teas in Asia. On the other hand, China, the country that unlocked the secrets of tea making and established the manufacturing process for each of the six classes of tea, is the only country that produces all six classes of tea."
Of the six classes of tea, Chinese green teas remain the most deeply explored, and their quality is intimately connected to their growing location and plucking time, p39:
"Green tea is produced year-round in subtropical locations but only at specific times in the warm months in temperate zones. This corresponds to the specific varieties of Camellia sinensis grown in these dissimilar places. The quality of the leaf generally relates to the number of plucks (harvests) per year and the time of year in which the pluck occurs."
Green tea is symbolic of the vitality of spring in a very vivid sense, since the first pluckings of the year are carried out during that time, as is written in Tea: Cultivation to Consumption (1992), p4:
"In China, the tea plant is practically dormant during the winter season, and the first plucking is carried out in the spring, towards the end of April. From these first young tender leaves the best tea is made."
The smallest, tender leaves are picked throughout the spring to produce the finest green teas. The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook states, p61:
"...spring itself is broken up into early, mid-, and late spring. For these teas, the smallest buds and leaves are gathered and timing is of the essence. The younger and smaller the leaf, the finer, more delicious, and more costly the tea will be."
Once plucked, the leaves are immediately sent for manufacture, p12:
"In the simplest terms, leaf manufacture is the process of turning freshly plucked leaf into finished tea. Each class of tea is manufactured according to a well-defined, precise sequence of steps (some manufacture takes longer and is more complicated than others) that is responsible for the differences in green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and Pu-erh tea. Because the traditional ways of crafting tea differ from region to region, and because humans must work with what nature provides for them on any given day, no two teas will ever be exactly alike."
Green tea leaves tend to require the least processing compared to other classes of tea, p39:
"Green tea is tea in its purest form and the one that is minimally altered by man. There is no room in green tea production for overmanipulation or drawn-out, fussy techniques. The most critical factors in the manufacture of green tea are preventing oxidation of the fresh leaf and preserving the natural green color."
This green colour represents the tea's potential to make a good-tasting brew, p64:
"...the leaf is manufactured and dried as quickly as possible to achieve maximum flavor. The best green tea leaf is kept intact to keep the internal cell juices locked inside the leaf until they are released into the cup on contact with hot water during steeping." 
The leaves are heated after plucking to prevent fermentation, as stated in Tea: Cultivation to Consumption, p413:
"As green tea is produced by steaming or pan-firing leaves immediately after plucking, enzyme action is inhibited and endogenous components in the leaves are retained in the product mainly unchanged. Therefore, the taste is primarily determined by the choice of clone, time of plucking, shoot maturity and the cultivation method."
To this day many famous Chinese green teas are made by hand. The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook states, p59:
"China’s best teas are made by tea workers using skilled hands, as well as the experience that their eyes, ears, and noses bring to the task of tea making. Making tea by hand requires dedication, skill, and patience. While machinery assists some tea workers with their task, machines cannot determine how to make the precise, spontaneous adjustments that many teas require."
After being sent to the shops, the teas are offered primarily by location and season, p54:
"Chinese green teas are offered by place of origin, pluck, manufactured shape, and season of harvest. Historically, specific locations offer prime conditions for particular subvarieties of tea bushes and are famous for that tea. Some growing areas feature a variety of bushes and styles of above-average quality."
When buying a gren tea, it is useful to keep the following information in mind, p58:
"The finest green teas are:
• Produced from the hand-plucked buds and tiny leaves of tea bushes awakening in the earliest days of spring
• Selected from vigorous, healthy tea plants
• Hand-plucked at the correct month, week, or day necessary for the style of tea
• Carefully sorted to remove imperfect or torn leaf, bits of stem, and miscellaneous waste
• Precisely shaped by hand or shaping machines
• Finish-fired over a controlled heat source by experienced workers."
In the next post of this series; part 4, the ancient traditional Chinese cultural reflection on tea drinking will be looked into.

1 comment:

  1. What I like about a tea is its aroma. It smells so delicious.